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Germs

There was a very large spider in my room last night. I had to knock on Connie and Melanie's door to see if either one of them could deal with creepy-crawlies. Connie sort of got rid of it: it crawled into the wall when she tried to get it onto a piece of paper. Euggh!

After breakfast this morning I learned that we have eight sick people. I've been feeling a little intestinally challenged over the last couple of days, but nothing like our sickies. They've got nausea and everything. The bus ride today was pretty much misery for them, and they only participated in our activities minimally. Knock wood I don't get it.

Riding along on the highway today, I realize that every single Bulgarian driver's main objective is to overtake everyone else on the road. We had a couple of fairly close calls with cars suddenly in our lane, and one time we were in the wrong lane. It's a little scary, especially as this is the first European coach I've been on where seat belts aren't a priority.

After a brief rest stop for those who really, really needed it, we visited the Pomak village of Glogovo. "Pomak" is somewhat derogatory because it means "smashed Bulgarians." Its origin lies in the 16th and 17th centuries when Ottoman Turks forced southern Bulgarians (along the border) to convert to Islam. At some point in the 1950s, the Pomaks were moved from the Rhodope Mountains and resettled in small towns in northern Bulgaria because the Communist regime thought that the Pomaks would capitulate to or possibly even aid a Turkish invasion. So apart from the fact that they're Muslims who live in their own communities, they are Bulgarians in every other way, though some of the older women dress in Turkish-style pants (baggy and colorful). In addition, though they are Muslim, they drink alcohol and eat pork, and I didn't see anyone wearing the clothing that one associates with Arab Muslims.

We visited a pre-school/kindergarten (I've never visited a school on a Rick Steves tour before and now I've visited two!). We were greeted in the playground by kids of around four or five years old. They sang a song, and then one little girl recited a poem for us. Completely adorable. Going into the school, we went down to the basement where the kindergarteners were. Kindergarten starts at six years old and first grade at seven. They also sang some songs (one about how to behave in traffic, apparently) and danced. They were just like little kids anywhere: fidgety, sweetly uncoordinated, and focused on what they were supposed to be doing … except when they got distracted, which was often. You can see who the bossy kids are, the shy kids, the flirty kids. And then we had to sing "Old MacDonald" again. The kids clapped but looked less than enthralled.

Stefan then presented the class with a giant teddy bear that's been riding around in the bus with us since Sofia. We named the bear Uncle Rick. We also had some smaller teddy bears for the children, and they just descended on those. Much happiness abounded.

This classroom had bunk beds so the kids could have their naps. They're at school from 8:00-4:00, and they get two meals and two snacks while there. We also saw the five-year-olds' classroom, and they have little IKEA-style beds for their naps.

The teacher or principal (not sure what exactly she was) prepared a snack for us in the classroom: bread, honey and a mix containing cumin and other spices that go in curry for dipping the bread in, and bite-sized baklava. Yummers!

A two-minute drive down the road took us to the mayor's office. We got to sit in his office for 15 minutes or so asking questions. He's in his second term but preparing for elections in October. His secretary, who's been in the job for 24 years, is also running. There didn't seem to be any animosity between the two, but then again they are politicians!

Mr. Mayor was proud that his village of 2,000 people has its own medical center and dentist. They had a policeman, but he retired last year and they're still waiting for a new one. Unfortunately, the closest fire department is 20 miles away, and when there's a fire, the brigade typically arrives just in time to record the results.

There are three other people who work in the mayor's office, all of them appointed but not by the mayor himself: the secretary, a treasurer, and a lady who seems to do everything else that needs to be done. Mr. Mayor and the secretary agreed that the worst problem in the village is unemployment, which runs around 30 percent.

For lunch we drove another few minutes down the road to the house of a family of musicians. At picnic tables in their yard, we were served potato salad, a veal soup (Ew.), and a bean soup, followed again by teensy baklavas. Then the uncle, his sister, and her two children sang for us. The girl who did most of the singing was only 14 years old and had a very nice, strong voice. The other little girl didn't do much; I think she just wanted to be on view because she had dressed up for the occasion. The grandmother or aunt or whatever she was took care of some of our sickies and was wearing a traditional costume. They were very nice and hospitable people, and I think we probably could have sat there for a little longer.

We had a couple of hours back in Sofia (at the same hotel) to recover, and then it was time for our last dinner. We were missing nine people due to illness, and the restaurant had us split up among three tables, so it was rather a sorry affair. The food was good — one of the courses was feta with garlic and honey baked in tinfoil — and my table was happy and interesting, but the vibe felt off. Anyway, we all applauded for Kyro and presented a card to Stefan, and Stefan gave each of us a little recipe book he had made that has all the recipes from the trip, as well as some spice packets to get us started.

Saying goodbye is always hard, but particular hard for me this time since I have to leave the hotel super early and won't get to see anyone at breakfast; plus, of course, I didn't get to say goodbye at all to the sick people. Hugs and handshakes all 'round. I'll miss Stefan's smiling, chipmunky face, but I'm looking forward to being back home with John and the cat.

To bed soon, as I must get up at 3:30 a.m.

Random King Kong moment

Random King Kong moment


Reciting a poem

Reciting a poem


Uncle Rick

Uncle Rick


The kids and their teddies

The kids and their teddies


Lunchtime entertainment

Lunchtime entertainment


One of our lunch hosts

One of our lunch hosts

Posted by londonpenguin 17:00 Archived in Bulgaria

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